Three Time Frames

by Ron Potter

Raymund Chua was a client of mine many years ago.  We built a good relationship and have stayed in touch with each other through the years.  Raymund, living in Singapore, is doing some great work in Southeast Asia.

He posted something on LinkedIn the other day that I found very powerful because it was profound and simple at the same time.

Leadership Story

The chart is titled “The Three Timeframes” as part of a series called, A Leadership Story.

State of the Leaders Focus

Current – Next – Future

I’ve not only seen these states in various leaders, I’m aware that I also get “stuck” in one of the three states.

Possible Symptoms

This list is very interesting in that it shows the possible symptoms of each state.

  • Future Focus –  Full of new ideas.  Often not quite sure how to get there.  Very Start-Up in its nature
  • Next Focus – Great initiatives but really never takes into account where the organization is or what they’re cable of doing.
  • Current State – Focused on doing well today with no thought of the future.

Which State is Best?

OK, trick question.  While there may be moments in time when one state will serve better than the others, long-term all the states must be blended into the leadership thought.  Let’s take a deeper look at each one of them.

Future Focus

This is an extremely valuable focus.  Where is the future headed?  What insights will prepare us for a future that is mostly unknown today?  In the pandemic we’ve been experiencing which has caused tectonic shifts in our culture and way of doing business, this is a valuable focus.

What happens when the majority of people begin working from home?

  • Commercial real estate loses a great deal of its value.
  • Building teams becomes even harder when people are not able to be close to each other, shake hands, or put an arm around someone’s shoulder to offer some comfort.
  • It doesn’t matter where you’re located.  Areas like New York City, Silicon Valley, Boston Rte 128, and others are no longer required living locations to be a contributing member of a high tech team.

I”m sure there are many other aspects of our future that we can’t even see yet.

But having a future focus will tune you into issues and moments that others may miss and could be extremely valuable.

However, being future focused comes with its drawbacks as well.  I mentioned earlier that I get stuck in one of these states.  This is the one that has been my nemesis and has added stress to my life through the years.  Because I tend to be future focused, I look forward to what might be coming or what I may be able to experience in the year ahead.  However, it is usually late February or March when I feel like the year is well underway and I’m bogged down in the ordinary and won’t be able to experience the fabulous future I had imagined.  And by July or August, my sense is that the year is over and I might as well start focusing on the next one.  Unfortunately, I’ve missed many wonderful things that happen “in the moment” because I’m so focused on the future.

You need all three.

Next Focus

I would probably call this “near” focus.  These are the people who are focused on the near term —the next year if they are working in the business world.

They aren’t really thinking about the immediate or today’s problems and issues.  They also are not thinking much beyond the year.  There’s not much of what you would call future vision in their thinking.

There are two issues that these types face but don’t seem to grasp.  One is immediate problems.  They may have the year thought out but seem to be unaware that something is about to blow up or go terribly wrong in the next couple of weeks.  By next month they may be trying to recover from or get on top of an issue that essentially keeps them from accomplishing the year as they envisioned.

The second issue is they are not visionary.  High-performance teams always have a future destination they are excited about and committed to achieving.  Because the next focus leader doesn’t think or have a vision for the future, it’s hard for them to build high-performance.  They can be good at what we might think of as operational teams, ones that are efficient and get the near term tasks completed, but they are not good at having the right team or building the right skills for the future.

Current State Focus

These people are very short-term focused.  They’re good at solving the immediate problem.  In the business world, they are often called “firefighters.”   Firefighters are important.  There can always be a fire to put out and it must be done as quickly as possible.   The problem I began to see over the years was that firefighters were sometimes arsonists.  They either started fires or fanned small fires so they could put their skill set to use solving bigger fires.

They also don’t really do anything to prepare the organization or team for any longevity.  They don’t really think beyond putting out the immediate fire.  They don’t prepare the team for bigger or longer-term issues.  And they certainly don’t offer up a future to work towards.  They’re needed but they’re needed in the moment and not beyond.

There are two other categories that are also important.

No, No, No

The first (top of the chart) one talks about a leader that is neither current state, next, nor future focused.  My apologies to those people who are trying to do a good job and make things better but I often think of government offices when I think of the No, No, No environment.  In the “Unintended Team Culture” apart of the chart, it lists:

Good talents would have left.  What’s left is a culture that is very contented (and at times) protective of the status quo.

In the corporate world, I’ve actually seen a couple of cases where the leadership had decided to no longer be in a part of the business or spend resources on doing a certain piece of the business.  But as I looked around the corporation I would see people showing up for work, getting to their office, and continuing to do the work they had done for years just the way they had always done it.  The CEO would be floored.  He would wonder why they were spending resources on something they had decided to kill off months or maybe even years ago.  It didn’t take much looking to find a No, No, No leader.

Yes, Yes, Yes

This category at the bottom of the chart talks about the leader who is focused on all three states, current, next, and future.  If you read the “Possible Symptoms” and “Unintended Team Cultures”, I hope you resonate positively and want to belong in that atmosphere.

Possible Symptoms: A leader who knows the organization’s current capability, knows precisely what to do next, and has a roadmap to the future.

Unintended Team Culture: a culture that has a crystal clear understanding of their current situation, has a shared vision, and knows what to do to close the gap.  I would actually title this as the Intended Team Culture.

Be a triple yes type of leader.  It’s the only type that builds high-performance teams and has a shot of conquering the uncertain future.

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